18 Essential Trip Planning Tips for India

Last Updated on October 21, 2023 by Christine Kaaloa

Planning a trip to India, Things you should know
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Traveling to India soon? Is it your first time?…

Traveling India can feel challenging for a first timer. Poverty, dirt, begging… are things you hear travelers warn others of.And it is true, but the pros can outweigh the cons and India is definitely an adventure that most do not regret. So here’s 18 Essential Things to Know Before Planning your Trip to India.

Planning a Trip to India | Things you should know

18 Essential Trip Planning Tips for India

1. India is large; know what experience you seek

India has a population of 1.2 billion people, with 29 states and 7 union territories.   You can travel the country and you’ll always find something a little different, from mountains, deserts, beaches, rivers, etc.. you can find all types of terrain there and landscapes will look drastically different. This is why you’ll come across many Indian travelers  traveling their own country, embracing some culture shock and feeling a little lost like you. 

Tip: Know what experience you seek in India. This will help you narrow down your itinerary. Are you seeking spirituality, history and culture, wildlife, yoga, beaches, etc…?

2.  The language of India

Language wise, Hindi and English are the main languages and they are generally spoken in large modern cities like Delhi, Mumbai.

But keep in mind, there are 21 official other languages and they can change by region. Not everyone in India speaks  English.. or even Hindi! So on some occasions, even Indians may not fully understand the language of their brothers. Also, India doesn’t just have one cinema industry (Bollywood), but something like eleven! For a traveler going outside of the big cities, finding your way may involve more culture shock. You might go down south and English words on buses change to the local script language. What to do?

Tip: Always ask help from locals. You may have to ask a few to get the right answer. If you ask someone a question and they tell you something but do a head wobble with their eyes glazed over, go to the next person who looks like they might know English or look educated. Millenial generations are usually good to ask as their schooling may involve the English language.

3. Plan at least a day for city to city travel.

Plan at the very least one day’s worth of travel time when going from city to city. You’ll want to pad your travel time as sometimes, transportation can break down. The only way you can plan a tight schedule is by hiring a driver/car or taking a tour.

4. Avoid over stuffing your itinerary with many cities.

India is huge so you don’t want to stuff your itinerary with too many cities. For instance trying to fit 4 to 5 cities into a week is asking for a meltdown. Travel takes time and even if it is train travel, it can feel exhausting. By the time you reach the city, you’ll want a bit of recovery time to relax and settle in. Also as mentioned above, you want to give your transit time a day at the very least. Whether it’s a 6 hour train ride or a 14 hour one, plan a day’s worth, because you never know if your train or bus will break down or if you’ll be too exhausted to do anything after you arrive into the city.

5. Plan your itinerary in easy point-to-point chunks or regions.

It’s best and easiest to plan your itinerary chunks or cover one region at a time. Going across the country will take you a couple of days if by train or a couple of hours by airplane. It’s doable if you have a good deal of time, but if you have a short amount of time, you might want to stay within the central region you’re in. Each region in India has a lot to see and several cities to explore, each with a different theme or experiences.

If it’s your first time to India, one popular route many start with is The Golden Triangle, due to the fact your route will look like a triangle, starting and ending in Delhi (Agra and Rajasthan).

Tip: Check out this Guided 4 day Golden Triangle Tour

Another common route for backpackers who want to visit the beach is drop into Mumbai and ride the coast south towards Kerala, while stopping off in Goa, Kochin, Alleypey. There’s actually smaller towns to stop by in (such as Hampi or Gokarna), so it’s really up to you.  Read planning your first India trip for more.

Read Is it safe taking a local bus in India?

6. Mix in day tours or multi-day tours

Day tours and multi-tours to help alleviate your overwhelm. Why not plan your route and then fill in the blanks with day and multi-day tour itineraries where the guide whisks you off on a pre-made itinerary? I like to use GetyourGuide.

You can find inexpensive tours, like tour Jaipur in a day from Delhi or do a 5 private day tour of the Golden Triangle starting from Delhi. Maybe you just want to have a pre-made itinerary for Jaipur or a one day trip from Jaipur to experience a Rathambore tiger safari.

The reason I like day tours is that you have a guide and I feel it is essential for information and better appreciation of what you’re looking at. Also, they take you exactly to the points of interest.

Additionally, some have an all-inclusive guide/entrance fee.  Most popular government sites in India only allow certified guides to guide the attraction. That guide might only be certified for one site. Then you’d need to go to another site and hire another guide there. The tour might include a guide with all the certifications.

7. Best Travel  Website for India

 India Mike. is a travel forum which offers a lot of good information by fellow travelers but also by a lot of local Indians traveling their country.  In terms of female solo travel blogs, the best resources I’ve com across are HIppie in Heels and Global Gallivanting

8.  Rideshare Apps

 Uber and Olacabs.  You’ll be getting around a lot and you want safety and peace of mind. Uber and Olacabs are rideshare apps that operate like standard rideshare apps with the exception that you need to pay in cash. It’s easy and inexpensive.

9.  Booking Trains in India

Traveling by Indian train can be a fun and comfortable adventure. Whether you’re taking a sleeper train or booking a foreign tourist quota ticket at the last minute when a train is sold out. Read more about the types of Indian train seating

As of May 2016, the Indian Railways (aka IRCTC) allowed foreigners to book train tickets in advance online. However, there’s always been a bit of a snag in the past.  In the past, the workaround was to open an account on the IRTC website and then open an account on either, MakemyTrip.com or Cleartrip.com and then attempt to merge the two together. Both sites are frequently used by Indians to book travel; they show you the bus, airplane and train schedules.

10.  Booking Onward Travel in India

Booking Onward Travel is easier when you’re already in India. Local tourist agents are easy and inexpensive to use to book point to point travel, such as a train or VIP bus. I use tourist agents to book my onward travel a lot. If they can’t get me a seat on a full train, it’s because they can’t and then they’ll advise me of my options.  Travel agents are business people with a reputation as well; they know India well and often the commission fees you’re paying are equivalent to an online credit card fee. Just as your guesthouse or hotel for a reputable one and use your gut instinct.

11. Getting around in India

For long distance or city-to-city travel, your options are airplane, train, VIP bus, local bus, government bus or hire a driver/car.

International/Domestic Air Carriers: India Airlines, Indigo, SpiceJet, Jet Airways, Air Asia 

Train & Overnight Train:  India Railways

Best Train Seats/Class:  Most travelers reserved anything from 1st class to 3AC (ceiling fan and open air).  Overnight trains can run at irregular hours, leaving or arriving at either late at night or early in the morning.  Depending upon the class you may arrive late to your berth to find someone sleeping in it. In that case, you would need to wake them up and tell them to move. Most Indians are good about that.  If you’re booking an overnight Indian train, avoid the bottom berth if you want to go to bed early or sleep until late. This is the seat/berth that everyone sits on and your sleeping times will be determined by other passengers who either want to stay up late or wake up early.  However, usually by around 10am, the overnight train has few passengers as many have gotten off on stops in the morning.

Read my Travel Survival Guide for Indian Trains  for information about seat bookings.

Indian sleeper trains, indian trains, irctc, Planning a Trip to India
Indian sleeper trains
Indian overnight train, indian sleeper train, Planning a trip to India, Sleeper trains
Planning a trip to India: Sleeper trains


Train Bathrooms: Keep in mind most train bathrooms will have a squat and if there’s a western, you might still prefer to use the squat toilet.  There’s also seldom any running water for flushing or washing hands. There’s no toilet paper. Tip: Take baby wipes, toilet paper and your hand sanitizer.

Takal | Foreign tourist quota tickets: With train travel, it’s best to book tickets in advance especially for travel during holiday/ festival times. You’re competing with 1.2 billion people.  Train seats can get filled quickly. If you need to travel and seats are all sold out, foreign tourists have the opportunity to get a foreign tourist quota ticket (or takal).  Each train has a few reserved seats for foreign travelers. You might pay a little more, but if you can get a takal, then it’s worthwhile if you are cutting your schedule tight.  You would need to go to the train station and the office for International or foreign travelers.  There is no guarantee you will get it, but it’s chance worth taking if you urgently need to get to your next destination.  My video and resource guide is here.

Long distance bus, VIP bus, government bus

Of the three options, the one that gets my least recommendation is VIP bus, which offers options of a sleeper berth or reclining chair. I found this bus the least comfortable.  I recommend the government bus if you’re on a budget and have time.  I found it a fun way to get around India. The drawback is that your only bathroom stops will be in passing when you stop at a hub bus stations to pick up more passengers. During these stops, vendors with either jump on the bus or hang out outside to sell you snacks for your journey.

Read my Is taking the local bus safe in India? 

12. Getting an Indian SIM Cards

India isn’t quite up to par with free public WiFi yet and your guesthouse WiFi (if they have one) might be a little spotty. I highly recommend getting an Indian SIM with a data plan. If you want to surf the internet, you can always change your mobile SIM into a mobile hotspot . That is how I write posts like these from an Indian train. These days the mobile internet speeds are pretty good and quicker than an internet cafe.

If you have an e-SIM compatible phone than even better. I love using Airalo e-SIM. They are easy to use, inexpensive and it shaves time and frustration off hunting for a SIM shop and filling out applications with visa photos, etc.. If you’re traveling many countries, you can get a global eSIM so you don’t need to switch lines but it’s a tad more costly. If you’re only traveling India, you can purchase an Airalo India eSIM and activate it all from your mobile app (you need an internet connection or use the airport WiFi) when you touchdown in India. I’ve used mine in India and Pakistan. So far i”ve only experienced a lag in certain cities like Jawai and Udaipur where internet was pretty weak all around.

13. Communication in India

Internet cafes still exist and are a good backup when your Indian SIM goes wonky or there’s no top-off shop in sight. But the internet speeds in the cafe can be slow and they usually charge per minute. By no means will it break your bank, and you can always print out your flight tickets and reservations there.


Getting an Indian SIM card

14. Food Safety & Health in India

A lot of travelers fear experiencing Delhi Belly.  This can happen. Due to the fact drinking water is considered unclean in India and is to be avoided, you have to practice care in your water and food choices. Avoid ice at restaurants. Only drink filtered, boiled or bottled water (although you have to be safe about bottled water as well; if you’re not reusing your plastic bottle, always crush it so as to keep folks from reuse and resealing it).   No raw salads or fruits and veggies which have been exposed to or washed with water. Only take fruits that you can peel.

In India, men hold most jobs and cooking is one of them. Some joints don’t always practice sanitary habits. Only take food that is served hot and fresh. Avoid anything that’s been sitting out too long or has flies.

Read Safety Tips for Eating Street Food

15. What to do if you get sick in India?

Eat the yogurt

Yogurt is commonly sold in India. You can order it in restaurants that have it or get it from a local shop.  Eat it. Yogurt has good probiotics and bacteria which will help you fight viruses. In the case you have to take medicine like Cipro, which will strip your stomach of good bacteria that helps aid digestion, you can start putting it back in with the local yogurt.   The good one is actually the local one you’ll see being prepared and sitting outside shops.

Indian Hospitals

India is a country known for its medical tourism, so medical facilities in urban/metropolitan cities can be decent to good. Small towns/villages and hill stations might have less facilities, than a big city hospital. However, they are often certain to have a doctor and pharmacies.

 Read  Getting Sick in India

Indian Pharmacies

Pharmacies in India are pretty good. The carry anything from mosquito repellent to cold and flu medicines, first aid and you can get medicines that you might normally need prescriptions for in the country you’re from. Additionally, many small towns I’ve been to, they’ve had at least one or two if not more.  They can be abundant.

Read Getting into an Accident in India

Ayurvedic Medicine

Ayurvedic Medicine is a science and practice that originated in India hundreds of years ago.  It can cure some things that western medicine can’t. I met a Japanese yogi with a skin ailment. She tried many treatments in Japan and it could not be cured. But she researched Ayurvedic options and was able to find a practitioner who was able to find her a cure for her skin. Today, she’s still happy with the results.

16. Get Travel Insurance for India

Travel Insurance gives travelers peace of mind and is recommended for India.  I use World Nomads insurance. It’s  less costly insurance designed for travelers and will cover at risk activities (mountain climbing, skiing, etc...) that many insurances don’t cover.  Another insurance site tool to use is Travel Insurance Master. They help you find an insurance plan that fits your budget.

Read more about travel insurance.

Planning a Trip to India: At McLeodganj Hospital's pharmacy counter getting my prescription
Planning a Trip to India: At McLeodganj Hospital’s pharmacy counter getting my prescription
Planning a Trip to India, pharmacy in india
Small town pharmacy in McLeodganj, but not the only one in the town.


17. Toilets in India

If there’s one country I haven’t mastered the art of finding a good toilet, India is it.  India is one country where the public toilets don’t smell too fresh. You’ll find them disregarded often. Nice shopping malls and hotels are best places to find them. You can also find them at train stations.  Public toilets might be available but might not be maintained well. I opt for paid public toilets, where there is an attendant outside. Generally toilets can be a little cleaner.

When in India, expect the Asian Squat Toilet. A lot. I have a guide on how to use one here. By the end of your trip, you will be a pro.

For squeamish female travelers or travelers with bad knees: Check out my post on Feminine Urinary Devices. It’s the alternative solution to dealing with squat toilets.

Tip: Take baby wipes, hand sanitizer and toilet paper.  There will probably not be toilet paper or a working wash basin..

18. Costs and prices in India


Accommodation prices and standards range but this will be one of your more prominent travel costs, next to transportation.

For budget backpackers visiting metropolitan cities like Mumbai and Delhi, expect to pay roughly $15-25 for a decent room in a guesthouse or budget hotel.  Outside of the cities you’ll find cheaper accommodations. They can range starting at 100 rupees. Keep in mind, those accommodations might be older, not always in the greatest areas and lack a fresh coat of paint.  I like to research Booking.com, travel blogs and TripAdvisor. India is probably one country I wouldn’t couch surf as a woman.

Read Finding Budget Accommodations in India

Long Distance Transportation

Domestic flight costs can range from $30-100+ . Indian Trains and VIP/Overnight buses can occasionally cost around the same. Government buses will be the cheapest.


Indian Food can be cheap to moderate, depending upon what type of experience you want. Street food is usually under a dollar. A local Indian cafe can get you a thali meal for under $3. If you’re paying more than $3, then it usually means you’re dining at a restaurant or a western/ tourist cafe.  A bottled sprite can cost around 50 cents, but you can also get a local soda (you’ll have to drink it there and return the glass bottle) for around 10 cents.

Clothes and accessories

Scarves can ballpark around $5 or less if you’re buying many (of which you can ask for a discount). Pajama pants (westerners just called it that because it looks like pajama pants)  usually run around $4-6 on the streets. They’re super comfortable and lightweight. See what I bought here.

Traveling India soon and planning your trip to India? What are things you’d like to know?

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City Guides and India Travel Tips

As a female solo traveler and YouTuber, I take you inside Indian trains, how I got a foreign tourist quota, how
to get your Sim card and how to navigate Indian transportation, food and cities.  These are all filmed as I travel through India alone, so you can see the degree of difficulty or not.   I love India but I am certainly not invulnerable to trip difficulties, worry or culture shock.

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